About 4 years ago, my wife Diane and I were watching a program on the Food Network about a barbecue competition. I honestly don't remember who the sanctioning body was, KCBS or MIM, but it was pretty interesting. We both love to cook, and the idea of competition seemed appealing. It also looked like a great way to have fun!
So I did some research, and found that there was going to be a KCBS judging class in a nearby town the following February. I joined the Kansas City BBQ Society and signed up for the class. I figured, if we were going to try and cook, I'd better figure out what the judges were instructed to look for. Should have signed Diane up also, but she took the class the following year.
In the summer of 2007, we judged contests in Westmont, IL, Elk Grove, IL, Shannon, IL, and Libertyville, IL. Not a tremendous amount of contests, but enough to get a pretty good feel for what was being turned in. And we felt like, with some practice, we could maybe hold our own with some of the teams we met on the circuit.
We spoke with a lot of the teams that seemed to be showing up at all these events we attended, and decided that, the following year, we'd give competition "que" a try!
We already, at that time, owned a 20+ year old Weber WSM and a Big Green Egg ceramic cooker, but not having any easy method of hauling the egg around, (They are VERY heavy!) we picked up 2 more WSM's over the winter. And I started cooking on them as often as I could to try and get comfortable with the 4 categories, work on flavor profiles, etc.
Our first competition came in 2008, at the Red, White, & BBQ Memorial Day weekend, in Westmont, IL. We hauled all our stuff (and we had WAY too much stuff) in a rented U-Haul trailer. People have quite a number of different sleeping arrangements at contests. Some sleep in lawn chairs or recliners inside sleeping bags under their EZ-Up canopies, some in tents, many in thier cars and trucks, some in the cargo trailers they haul their stuff in, and some, the fortunate ones, in travel trailers or mobile homes. We were in the tent group that year.
When all was said and done, we were 24th in a field of 45 overall, 32nd in chicken, 27th in ribs, 22nd in pork, and 18th in brisket. Not too disappointing a start. We were especially happy to be above the middle of the pack in brisket.
Next was Elk Grove Rotary Ribfest, Fathers Day weekend, where we were soundly spanked! 34th of 37 overall, we achieved our first (and so far, thankfully last) DAL in chicken (37 of 37), 21st in ribs, 25th in pork, and 27th in brisket. OK, so far we weren't setting the world of Barbecue on fire, but we were having fun, making new freinds, and learning a LOT!
Our next comp was in July, at the Illinois State Championship contest in Shannon, IL. This is one of the bigger competitions in Illinois, and brings folks from all over the country. There were 62 teams total that year in Shannon, and we ended up 47th. Our chicken again was close to last at 58th, ribs 33rd, pork 50th, and brisket 41st. There was a heck of a thunderstorm that Friday night, and I'm still not sure how our tent and EZ up survived the night! But we managed to get through it, and had a great time at the very least.
Our final comp that year was in September, at the Zoo-B-Cue State Champioinship in Racine Wisconsin. This was a very cool event, held inside the Racine zoo. A beautiful setting right on the shore of Lake Michigan. We were 19th of 34 overall. Our chicken barely avoided DAL, coming in 33rd. Our ribs, 18th, our brisket, 19th. But, wonder of wonders, we heard our name called for 3rd place in pork!
I don't think there is any way to describe the feeling the first time you hear your name called in the top ten (let alone the top 5) and get to take that walk to the stage! Actually, there was a tie, to 4 decimal points for second place between us and our neighbor, Brew-B-Cue. But they won the tie-breaker. Didn't matter, we were floating on air! And the hook, as they say, was set...